Jonquel Jones has been an essential ingredient in the Connecticut Sun’s winning formula ever since she joined the team. But this year, she leveled up her game like never before.

Though the Suns didn’t qualify for the Finals this season, Jones conquered the court and posted her best numbers yet after missing 2020 due to concerns over Covid-19. The forward averaged 19.4 points per game, overtaking her previous career high of 15.4. In addition, she averaged a career high in assists per game (2.8) and tied her career average in steals.

Perhaps most incredibly, Jones actually missed most of the WNBA’s June slate she could play in the 2021 EuroBasket for Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she also topped the standings in both points per game (24.3) and rebounds (16.8).

After returning to the U.S., Jones reemerged as an MVP candidate. The Sun, led by out coach Curt Miller, closed out the regular season with 14 straight wins, the longest streak in franchise history.

Jones’ sensational game did not go unnoticed. She earned 48 of 49 first-place votes for MVP, and is now the first player in WNBA history to win MVP alongside Most Improved Player (2017) and Sixth Woman of the Year (2018).

Off the court, Jones is also an important out figure in the league, and has spoken openly about her coming-out journey after growing up in the conservative Bahamas.

Since Jones started dating a woman in 2018, she’s grown more comfortable sharing aspects of her personal life on social media.

“I struggled with it for a long, long, long time,” Jones said in an interview with Lindsay Gibbs for Bleacher Report. “I met so many amazing people that are doing great things, not just for themselves, but their communities. And when I saw that, I’m like, ‘Man, that stuff is bogus.’ You can’t say that God knows you unconditionally, and he’s gonna judge you for loving somebody else like that. So for me, I just had to figure it out for myself. It took a little bit of time, though.”

Other Honorees:

Katie Dunleavy: The British cyclist won two golds and a silver at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Stefanie Dolson: Dolson was part of the first-ever gold-medal team for the women’s 3X3 basketball tournament at the Olympics. A couple months later she won the WNBA title with the Chicago Sky, helping to bring the Windy City its first WNBA championship.

Candace Parker: Parker had quite a year, capped by bringing a WNBA title — her second — to her hometown of Chicago and being named the AP Female Athlete of the Year for the second time. She publicly came out in December.

Previous Outsports Female Athlete of the Year winners:

2020: Yulimar Rojas
2019: CeCé Telfer
2018: Sue Bird
2017: Seimone Augustus
2016: Nicola Adams
2015: Abby Wamback and Megan Rapinoe
2014: Brittney Griner